Drop Those Red Pens

In a stack of papers called Grading.

  • Dec
  • 11
  • 2006

My hand sits poised over the last of 51 Oedipus the King essays to read for this year. “Since the end of October, jeez…” I mutter and shake my head, taking another swig of black coffee. Putting Sunday morning on hold to correct papers never proves easy. But these papers have gathered dust on my desk or in my bag for going on 2 months.

Painfully aware of the fact that I’ll just get a completely new batch to read by Tuesday of this week, I realize that I have a method of correcting worth sharing. It’s nothing revolutionary and it doesn’t make the work any easier (some of you have stopped reading now), but it could make a difference in how you correct and comment on student work.

Hello Pencil, My Old Friend

I tend to write long notes to my students when I finish reading their papers. I also tend to misspell things, an ironic curse I have. There’s a reason these entries are spelled correctly. I further tend to express my ideas better after a few attempts. All these tendencies make a pencil my best friend.

Maybe my comments in the margin were too harsh; that 23rd “Why?” can seem insulting. Erase and correct. Are “inaccuracies,” “repetitive,” and “sophistication” spelled right? Erase and correct. That’s not quite how I wanted to say it… Erase and correct. Oh wait, they finally got to that point in paragraph 6; nevermind (scribble, scribble). Erase and correct.

I’ve Come To Talk With You Again

When I finish reading all the papers, I can go back and make sure that I’ve been consistent. Changing final scores to ensure that I didn’t grade the last paper easier than I graded the first — and that I graded those middle papers on the quality of writing, not my frustration level — is an easy matter: erase and correct.

Using pencil, the next time you write something on student work you can edit yourself as much as you like. It’s easy to leave a harsh comment on particularly poorly executed work and regret it later. And even a positive comment looks bad written in red. It’s nerve wracking to get a paper back from the teacher. Pencil softens things up a bit and lowers the threshold, putting students in a better space to consider revisions and ideas you suggest.

So drop those red pens. Right now. I want to hear the collective “splap” of those pens falling to the desktop or carpeted floor of your classroom. Go buy a mechanical pencil. I prefer the Pentel ICY and have used them for years, but your opinion may vary. Don’t forget the lead.

1 comment

1. Kathy says:

[4/7/2008 - 7:10 pm]

I like it and your comment just brought up a dormant memory of my own experience in school. Probably the best writing teacher I had used a pencil to comment on our writing and you are right. His comments were in some way “softer”.